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April 1, 2024

The Book of Thorns by Hester Fox ~ a Review

by MK French

Stranded near Paris, Cornelia Shaw allows herself to be recruited to Napoleon’s Grande Armée. She uses herbal mixtures to heal soldiers, which several see as witchcraft. They're not too far from the truth, as Cornelia’s knowledge is due to her ability to speak to flowers. When Napoleon’s army descends on Waterloo, the flowers tell her about a girl resembling Cornelia who has the same ability. Her long-lost sister Lijsbeth is on the opposite side of the war, but Cornelia still wants to meet. Soon the sisters try to uncover the source of their abilities even as accusations of witchcraft threaten to destroy them.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of gothic novel The Book of Thorns by Hester Fox
April 2024; Graydon House; 978-1525831560
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); gothic fiction

Cornelia's uncle wants to marry her off to a local man who openly tells her he would enjoy breaking her spirit, whom she suspects of killing his first wife. She runs away rather than allow a marriage to take place, and her meager savings can't get her as far as Paris from England, but she's swept up into a soldier's camp as a naturalist and eventually herbal healer for those who don't feel comfortable going to the surgeon. While this is happening, Lijsbeth is a mute servant in a rich family whose son won't leave her alone and assaults her. She has even less recourse than Cornelia but is transferred to a different household where she isn't as hunted. These were usual circumstances for women in 1815, though their connection to flowers and the ability to "talk" to them were not.

Cornelia from the start isn't too conventional in her affection, as she once loved her maid, Anna, then grew too attached to those she met in the war camp. She took her wealth for granted but rose to the occasion to help others where she could, and also loved where she could. Flowers had her searching for Lijsbeth before she even recalled having a sister; eventually, we and Lijsbeth know more about the situation than Cornelia does. Their lives don't intersect in the novel until the second half of the book, especially in the final quarter. 

The sisters both have the gift for manipulating and understanding the flowers around them, though what initially brings on that gift are opposite forces. The sisters bring balance to each other and maintain a connection at the end. I enjoyed the almost fairy tale way it all came together, with hope for both sisters and their futures. 

Buy The Book of Thorns at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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